Medical maladies and the quest for the perfect purebred

Just last week we received a press release from the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation announcing its latest round of grants for veterinary research to "help dogs lead longer, happier lives."

The canine health foundation of the venerable leader in purebred dog registries issued $1.5 million to researchers working on a host of diseases specific to certain breeds: cramps in Scottish Terriers, glaucoma in Basset Hounds, epilepsy Australian Shepherds.

We wondered whether the AKC saw any potential irony in the fact it is funding research into disease and genetic defects that many in the animal welfare movement would likely argue are the result of harmful "breed standards" and in-breeding.

Recent investigative reports like theBBC's "Exposed" turn the spotlight on the dog fancy here and in the UK, the prevalence of reckless in-breeding and a quest for "extreme traits" that leaves dogs vulnerable to disease and living greatly shortened lives.

The AKC did not respond to our query.

From the New York Times magazine on Sunday, comes a new round of evidence that the emphasis on certain breed standards have created medical misfits, dogs plagued by disease and deformity.  Writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis examines the most medically-troubled breed in the cover story: "Can the Bulldog Be Saved?"

The English Bulldog is predisposed to suffering from dozens of medical conditions - starting at birth. Virtually all bulldog puppies are delivered by C-section because of the extreme size of their heads. Thyroid deficiency, dysplasia, congenital heart disease and digestive disorders are a few of the maladies common in purebred bulldogs.

It wasn't always that way. Historically, the English Bulldog looked more like pit bull or Staffordshire terrier. But the breed standards changed dramatically over the last half century and Bulldog Club of America told the Times it has no intention of reversing course.

For more on the subject purebred dogs and the controversy over breed standards, I recommend Terrierman blog.

Terrierman, aka Patrick Burns, has written some of the most forceful and eloquent words about what he might call the "devolution" of purebred dogs. 

He has devoted many posts to the problems inherent in kennel clubs' "closed registries," which have, in his view, mandated the inbreeding that leads to medical conditions that cause prolonged suffering and early death in many breeds.

Burns takes a hard line on the English bulldog. A victim of "pretenders and puppy peddlers," he writes, the bulldog is past saving. His recommendation? If you want a real bulldog, he says, adopt an American Pit Bull and reduce the euthanasia rate by one at your local shelter.

Photo/Maria Brose/Corbis